DEAR DR. BLONZ: With the reports about food poisonings from fruits and vegetables, I wanted to know the best way to clean produce. Is water enough, or should I use something additional, such as a diluted solution of dishwashing liquid (not enough to affect the taste)? -- J.D., Charlotte, N.C.
DEAR J.D.: Fruits and vegetables are not waterproof; unless they have been waxed, they can, to varying degrees, absorb liquids or the components they contain. This means that any fluid you use to wash your vegetables should be approved for food use. Dishwashing detergents, in general, are not. It is important to always clean your produce in potable, running water before eating. This will usually suffice, but if you desire a product that does more, you should seek out one that is specifically designed for washing produce.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: Is there anything to the theory that the healthiest foods are the ones that grow in the area where you live? -- M.S., San Diego
DEAR M.S.: Indigenous foods might be more familiar to our taste buds and to our digestive tracts, but in general, there is no evidence that they possess any special health attributes.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: Is there any unique nutritional value to the Mexican plantano? What is the number of calories in a large, 6-ounce plantano? -- S.Q., Poway, Calif.
DEAR S.Q.: A 6-ounce Mexican plantano, also known as a plantain, contains about 218 calories, along with 2.3 grams of protein, 57 grams of carbohydrate and less than a gram of fat. It is a vegetable, but it looks like large, greenish banana with a mottled, rough peel. Plantains blacken when fully ripe, but can be broiled or sauteed at any degree of ripeness. They are a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C, along with folate, carotene and potassium.
DEAR DR. BLONZ: What exactly is "palmitate," and why is it in powdered milk? -- N.T. Oakland, Calif.
DEAR N.T.: When you see "palmitate" in the name of a substance, it indicates a compound that is made with palmitic acid, a saturated fatty acid. The name comes from the fact that it is a principle fat found in palm oil. In milk, the vitamin A, or retinol, is combined with palmitic acid; the resulting compound is called either vitamin A palmitate or retinol palmitate. You might also see palmitate in other compounds, such as ascorbyl palmitate, which is a combination of palmitic acid with vitamin C (ascorbic acid).
Interestingly enough, palmitate makes up about 25 percent of the fats found in mother's milk. It's also present in human lung surfactant, a substance that coats the inside of our lung surfaces and allows us to breathe.
The amount of palmitate in powdered milk is negligible. It is only there as an "escort" for the small amount of vitamin A added to the product.
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